NWSL Digest: Reign, Flash flying as we move past Week 1

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Player of the Week

Vicky Losada (right) is part of an emerging core of Spanish talent that’s starting to make Ignacio Quereda’s team relevant in Europe, but having never played outside of Spain before , the 23-year-old midfielder was a bit of an unknown to those who don’t subscribe to the Women’s La Liga Television Network (a channel that doesn’t exist).

So credit to Aaran Lines and the Western New York staff for scouting Week One’s big star. Perhaps teammate and fellow Spanish international Adriana Martín deserves some credit, too. Whatever the reason, the former Barcelona standout was more than able to make up for the loss of Abby Wambach, scoring twice and assisting on Brittany Taylor’s goal in the Flash’s 3-1 win in Washington.

Results

FC Kansas City 1-1 Sky Blue FC – Amy Rodriguez 42′; Katy Freels 48′
Houston Dash 0-1 Portland Thorns – Allie Long 24′
Washington Spirit 1-3 Western New York Flash – Vicky Losada 15′, 67′; Christine Nairn 50′; Brittany Taylor 54′
Seattle Reign FC 3-0 Boston Breakers – Kim Little 49′, 54′; Megan Rapinoe 88′

Team of the Week

GK – Jill Loyden, Sky Blue FC – This is a quantity choice, with the U.S. international making seven saves in Kansas City. Coming up big on Amy Rodríguez in the second half, Lloyden helped preserve a point on the road, even if some of her first half kicks were quite … interesting?

RB – Kelley O’Hara, Sky Blue FC – There weren’t any standout performances at right back, but O’Hara’s forays forward — tormenting rookie Kassy Kallman — distinguished the U.S. star. Normally a left back and a converted attacker, the Stanford grad got the call behind natural right back Caitlin Foord, who was pushed into midfield. Late in the game, O’Hara slid into central defense, playing understudy for Christie Rampone and Lindsi Cutshall.

CD – Becky Sauerbrunn, FC Kansas City – Sauerbrunn’s always a pleasure to watch, something you’re reminding of in her moment-to-moment control at the back; comfort on the ball; sublime steps into midfield. I’d bet against her being in this team every week, but I also wouldn’t be surprised if it happens.

CD – Brittany Taylor, Western New York Flash – We don’t like to be too goals-centric on this list, but Taylor did score on the league’s opening weekend, something that helps her edge out Sauerbrunn’s partner, Nikki Phillips, for this spot.

LD – Kassy Kallman, FC Kansas City – Like right back, left back was difficult to find standouts, but Kallman’s assist on Rodriguez’s goal earns the former Florida State Seminole a spot.

M – Allie Long, Portland Thorns FC – Long put four shots on goal on Saturday in Houston, with her first half header allowing the defending champions to win the first NWSL game at BBVA Compass Stadium.

source:  M – Jessica Fishlock, Seattle Reign FC (right) – Another great performance from the Reign’s best player last season saw the Wales international complement her customary rambunctious play with two assists, helping Seattle to an overwhelming start.

AM – Vicky Losada, Western New York Flash

AM – Kim Little, Seattle Reign FC – Little is coming off a downturn in goals at Arsenal, production that is unlikely to be so muted in Seattle. With one from the spot, another from open play, Little notched two goals in her first 90 North American minutes.

AM/W – Megan Rapinoe, Seattle Reign FC – A late goal against an overwhelmed Boston gave her just rewards for a strong opening day performance.

F – Amy Rodriguez, FC Kansas City – Making her NWSL debut, Rodriguez’s fine finish off Kallman’s late first half pass gave FC Kansas City its first goal at Durwood Stadium. Welcome back, A-Rod.

Standings

Pts GP W L T GF GA GD
Seattle Reign FC 3 1 1 0 0 3 0 3
Western New York Flash 3 1 1 0 0 3 1 2
Portland Thorns FC 3 1 1 0 0 1 0 1
FC Kansas City 1 1 0 0 1 1 1 0
Sky Blue FC 1 1 0 0 1 1 1 0
Chicago Red Stars
Houston Dash 0 1 0 1 0 0 1 -1
Washington Spirit 0 1 0 1 0 1 3 -2
Boston Breakers 0 1 0 1 0 0 3 -3

 

Quick thoughts, after week one

1. Becky Sauerbrunn and Nikki Phillips may already be the league’s best central defense duo …

FC Kansas City didn’t keep a clean sheet, but the goal was a bit freakish – a failed clearance that fell straight to Katy Freels. Around that, the central duo of Sauerbrunn and college teammate Nikki Phillips assuaged any fears shaking up last year’s solid defense would lead to a downturn in performance. Individually, the former Cavaliers were two of the weekend’s three best central defenders.

Compared to opening day last season, FCKC see only one player return to the same spot in the back four. Sauerbrunn and Leigh Ann Robinson stay the same, but Robinson (left to right back) has shifted to new roles.

Phillips’s addition, however, could justify the tweaks, and while Kallman looked a little slow against Foord and O’Hara, she won’t be the only left back in the league subjected to that problem.

source: Getty Images2. … but this formation change for FC Kansas City could cost us some fun.

I want to reserve judgement on Vlatko Andonovski’s switch away from the 4-2-3-1. I really do. Given the trouble the Blues had converting possession into goals, it’s not clear going to a second striker should be automatically criticized.

The new formation, however, doesn’t have the same pure playmaker role that’s present in the 4-2-3-1. Given how much enjoyment reigning MVP Lauren Holiday (pictured) produced in that spot, the fan in me wishes we could have voted on the move. Less Lauren Holiday picking apart defense – less fun for the NWSL.

3. Houston held their own with the defending champions …

With a temporarily depleted defense, the debuting Dash impressed against the Thorns, even if the result didn’t come. No surprise: Randy Waldrum appears to have quickly forged a solid squad.

4. … but may also be experiencing a women’s professional soccer typical problem.

Game-changing goal scorers have been so rare in Women’s Professional Soccer and the NWSL, it’s been hard to succeed without one. Sky Blue did to a limited extent last year, but at the end of the season, they were the team you wanted to meet in the playoffs. The rest of the postseason qualifiers had Wambach, Holiday, and Christine Sinclair, while Sydney Leroux was the only standout forward to miss the playoffs.

The thesis here is that the nature of the leagues has allowed elite goal scorers – people who can occasionally find goals of their own accord — to have a larger than expected impact. The absence of elite snipers may have doomed Washington, Seattle, and Chicago last season.

If that’s the case, Houston is in trouble. They have talented forwards such as Kealia Ohai and Stephanie Ochs, but it’s unclear either will be among the league’s leading scorers. We know enough about Ella Masar to be confident she won’t.

The Dash looked impressive on opening day, but that lack of a scoring threat could be their undoing. Maybe Ohai or Ochs will step up.

source: AP5. For all the talk, Portland doesn’t look much different.

The team with as much talent as anybody had trouble controlling the game yet still managed a narrow victory. Give Cindy Cone’s hat to Paul Riley, and the Thorns would have that full 2013 feel.

It’s early, and the Thorns had a number of key absences, but all the rhetoric about controlling play and providing a more entertaining product felt flat on day one. Riley got a win in his NWSL debut, but it didn’t feel like the Thorns had made progress.

6. So many moves led to so little change for Washington.

It’s just over one week into the season, and there are already hints of chaos in Washington, where a coach entering his first full season on the job called out his team after Sunday’s performance. True, there isn’t enough there to assume it’s all mayhem and anarchy in the dressing room, but the early tension between staff and squad hints at the same problems that saw Washington change coaches half-way through last season. There may be something in the water.

7. Laura Harvey’s offseason

We’re one step away from Power Rankings, but this should be the real order:

1. Laura Harvey’s offseason
<end of list>

We talked about it on Sunday, but we can’t do this Digest feature without mentioning the obvious. Harvey’s winter overhaul has the potential to define this season. Even if it doesn’t, 2013 should be a distant memory in Seattle.

League Leaders

Goals
RANK PLAYER TEAM GP GOALS
1 Kim Little SEA 1 2
2 Vicky Losada WNY 1 2
3 Amy Rodriguez KC 1 1
4 Megan Rapinoe SEA 1 1
5 Katy Freels NJ 1 1
6 Brittany Taylor WNY 1 1
7 Allie Long POR 1 1
8 Christine Nairn WAS 1 1
Assists
RANK PLAYER TEAM GP ASSISTS
1 Jessica McDonald POR 1 1
2 Adriana Martin WNY 1 1
3 Kassey Kallman KC 1 1
4 Vicky Losada WNY 1 1

Power Rankings

RANKING
Up/Down
source:  1 Seattle Reign FC: The attack was quick, fluid, balanced, and scary. Little and Fishlock as threats from midfield can take advantage of all the work Rapinoe, Leroux, and Beverly Goebel do up front. The only defense may be a good offense – finding a way to get at the Reign’s back four. (1-0-0)

2
Western New York Flash: Last year I thought Abby Wambach’s health wouldn’t hold up and the Flash would crash and burn. They ended up winning the regular season. Any kind of ‘wait and see’ attitude I have about Aaran Lines went out the window. It looks like he’s built another strong team. (1-0-0)
source:  3 Portland Thorns FC: As much as this looks like last year’s team, that squad won the title. Perhaps Paul Riley will need a little more time to produce the attractive product Merritt Paulson wants, but the team still got a win on the road. There’s only so much nit-picking we can do over one week’s result. (1-0-0)
source:  4 FC Kansas City: A draw at home in week one should be slightly disappointing, but the team put eight shots on target. Hopefully, on other days, that will lead to more goals. If Jill Loyden was able to keep the Blues to one, credit the keeper without faulting the team, too much. (0-0-1)
source:  5 Houston Dash: They created just enough going forward to make me believe the goal scoring situation will improve. If, however, Houston can’t prove more adept at getting on the scoresheet, Saturday’s result will look more plucky than dangerous. (0-1-0)

source:

5 Sky Blue FC: Ranking them below a team that lost is harsh, but Sky Blue gave up too many chances and needed an unforced defensive error from Kansas City to get a point. Jim Gabarra’s team proved capable as always, but if they played Houston tomorrow, I’d put my loose change on the Dash. If might also ask if I could skip the bet entirely. (0-0-1)
source:  7 Boston Breakers: Given how good the Reign were, we’re giving Boston a bit of a pass, particularly since they were able to get to halftime at 0-0. Where anything that happens on the field often comes down to balancing blame and credit, we’re tipping the scales in Seattle favor and leaving Boston near the middle of the Power Rankings pack. (0-1-0)

source:

8 Chicago Red Stars: I have no idea what to make of Chicago after Week One.  (0-0-0)
source:  9 Washington Spirit: A year after finishing with a -23 goal difference in 22 games, the Spirit open up with a 3-1 loss to a team that was missing its best player. I know there’s a lot of hype around Crystal Dunn, and players like Yael Averbuch, Veronica Perez, and Christine Nairn should prove valuable additions, but wow does this year look like last (after one week, mind you). (0-1-0)

Week Two

Saturday, April 19

Washington Spirit vs. FC Kansas City  – Talent-wise, Kansas City has a huge edge, but if Andonovski’s 4-4-2 needs a breaking in period, Washington may be able to steal a point.

Chicago Red Stars vs. Western New York Flash – Chicago opens its season at Toyota Park, hoping to draw a crowd for Abby Wambach and the Flash. Whether the U.S. icon will play isn’t 100 percent certain. If Chicago, returning largely the same team that closed last season so strong, can carry over momentum from 2013, the team can knock off the Flash.

Sky Blue FC vs. Portland Thorns FC – This matchup looks somewhat similar to Portland’s opener, prompting the obvious question: Will the Thorns play better? Even if they do, they’ll do os against a Sky Blue team that found ways to trouble them last season. So far from home, a draw would be a good result.

Sunday, April 20

Boston Breakers vs. Houston Dash – This should be a telling game for both teams. Was Boston’s opener truly about a powerful Reign team opening up at home? And were the Dash fueled by the occasion more than potential?

League Cup: Manchester United wins; West Brom, Watford bounced

League Cup results
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Luton Town made Manchester United work for its spot in the League Cup fourth round, while another lower league side simply ended another Premier League side’s tournament in Tuesday’s FA Cup results.

[ MORE: Breaking down Mendy to Chelsea ]

West Bromwich Albion is out of the tournament after blowing two leads and losing in penalties at home to Brentford, while West Ham blasted Hull City after an alarming COVID-19 moment and League Two side Newport County dismissed Watford.

Then there’s Tottenham and Leyton Orient, who didn’t even get to play. It’s all in the FA Cup wrap.


Luton Town 0-3 Manchester United

The score line does not tell the story here (aside from, you know, the goal total).

Brandon Williams won a late first-half penalty that Juan Mata smashed home as the Red Devils labored to a win over the Championship’s Hatters.

Marcus Rashford came off the bench to ice the game off a feed from fellow sub Mason Greenwood, who was later assisted by another sub in Bruno Fernandes.

Dean Henderson made an outstanding save in his long-awaited Manchester United senior debut.

The 23-year-old has been United property since he was 14 and has taken loans with four clubs including a highly-celebrated two years with Sheffield United.

Henderson did not have to make a save until the 81st minute, when he made a big stop to keep United on top at Kenilworth Road.

Mata’s goal came in his 200th appearance for the Red Devils. Donny van de Beek made his first Manchester United start in the win.

West Ham United 5-1 Hull City

Andriy Yarmolenko scored twice and set up two others as the Irons showed no ill effects of learning that David Moyes, Issa Diop, and Josh Cullen tested positive for coronavirus (The club says all three are asymptomatic).

Yarmolenko now has nine goals and five assists in just over 1700 minutes with West Ham. He missed 2.5 months with a muscle tear last season.

Sebastien Haller had a brace and Robert Snodgrass scored the other goal as West Ham’s “second string” continues to beat up on lower league competition while awaiting chances off the bench in the PL.

Mallik Wilks had brought Hull within two in the 70th minute only to see Haller and Yarmolenko complete their braces in stoppage time.

League Cup results
West Ham United’s Andriy Yarmolenko (center front) with Felipe Anderson, Haller, and Lanzini (Photo by ALASTAIR GRANT/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

Newport County 3-1 Watford

The Hornets had little going for them despite having the better of possession, outshot 12-2 by the time League Two’s Exiles reclaimed their two-goal lead with 25 minutes on the clock.

Adelberto Penaranda came off the bench to score for Watford after the Exiles built a 2-0 lead through Tristan Abrahams and Josh Labadie. Padraig Amond bagged County’s third goal to turn the screws on the former Premier League side.

Stipe Perica sealed Watford’s fate with an 88th-minute red card. The Hornets have a win and a draw in their return to the Championship and will focus on that until the FA Cup.

West Bromwich Albion 2-2 (4-5 pens) Brentford

The Bees couldn’t catch the Baggies in the race for the automatic promotion last season but kept scrapping en route to a pair of equalizers at the Hawthorns on Tuesday.

Brentford made all of its penalties, its fifth sealing the win after Grady Diangana’s effort was saved by David Raya.

Hal Robson-Kanu scored both of West Brom’s goals but answers came from Emiliano Marcondes and Marcus Forss to have it level with 17 minutes left in scheduled time.

Leyton Orient (ppd) Tottenham Hotspur

A raft of positive COVID-19 tests for the hosts put this tie in doubt Monday and we’re still awaiting the plan.

For now, health aside, Spurs are probably quite happy to have day off given a wild fixture list across three competitions which includes a trip to Macedonia for Europa League action on Thursday.


Next League Cup third round fixtures

All times ET

Wednesday
Preston North End v Brighton — 2 pm
Millwall v Burnley — 2 pm
Fulham v Sheffield Wednesday — 2 pm
Stoke City v Gillingham — 2 pm
Chelsea v Barnsley — 2:45 pm
Leicester City v Arsenal — 2:45 pm
Fleetwood Town v Everton — 2:45 pm
Morecambe v Newcastle United — 2:45 pm

Thursday
Bristol City v Aston Villa — 2 pm
Lincoln City v Liverpool — 2:45 pm
Manchester City v Bournemouth — 2:45 pm


League Cup fourth round draw

Lincoln City/Liverpool v Leicester City/Arsenal
Millwall/Burnley v Manchester City/Bournemouth
Brentford v Fulham/Sheffield Wednesday
Fleetwood Town/Everton v West Ham United
Bristol City/Aston Villa v Stoke City/Gillingham
Leyton Orient/Tottenham v Chelsea/Barnsley
Newport County v Morecambe/Newcastle United
Preston North End/Brighton v Manchester United

USMNT learns Nations League dates, says no October friendlies

USMNT news
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CONCACAF’s summer is going to be red-hot as its top sides will scrap multiple times on the road to World Cup qualifying.

In other words, we might see the USMNT meet Mexico twice in a month.

The USMNT, Mexico, Honduras, and Costa Rica are among the group of sides waiting to see who advances from the postponed first stage of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying. The final round of World Cup qualifying had already been postponed.

It was revealed Tuesday that the quartet will now play the first ever CONCACAF Nations League Finals in June, three months behind schedule and just before the 2021 Gold Cup.

[ MORE: How 7 Americans fared in Bundesliga Wk 1 ]

The Gold Cup was previously postponed to June 10 – July 1 and the draw is set for Monday.

The Nations League semifinals see No. 1 seed Mexico against No. 4 Costa Rica and the No. 2 Catrachos of Honduras meeting the third-seeded USMNT.

A U.S. Soccer Federation release said the move is to put the focus on first stage of qualifying (It also gives all of the participants more time to figure out the pandemic atmosphere if it, as anticipated, reaches into a second year dramatically affecting sporting competitions):

This official competition Finals event will take place in a centralized location in the United States in June 2021. Concacaf will now work with our stakeholders to finalize the location and specific dates for this competition.

Playing this competition in June 2021 will enable the First Round of the Concacaf Qualifiers for the FIFA World Cup, which involve 30 Concacaf Member Associations, to take center stage in March 2021.

Concacaf remains in discussions with FIFA to agree a new schedule for the Concacaf Qualifiers which retains the current format.

[ WATCH: Gooch’s solo goal for Sunderland ]

U.S. Soccer also announced that it will not play any matches or train in the October international break, aiming for a November return. That means Christian Pulisic will have even more time to find top form for Chelsea.

General manager Brian McBride says Gregg Berhalter’s group may have an additional December camp with its January camp, which is great news for MLS players hoping to cement their statuses in Berhalter’s mind while the European talent continues to play overseas.

“After extensive conversations about holding a men’s national team camp in October, we ultimately determined the unique challenges created by COVID-19 as it relates to hosting international opponents and getting our players together wouldn’t allow us to move forward,” men’s team general manager Brian McBride said, via the Associated Press. “While we won’t have the team together in this upcoming window, we are making considerable progress for November.”

West Ham manager Moyes, two players test positive for COVID-19

West Ham COVID-19
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West Ham United’s preparations for Tuesday’s League Cup match against Hull City were rocked by positive COVID-19 tests for three members of the first team.

Irons boss David Moyes, center back Issa Diop and midfielder Josh Cullen all were informed of positive coronavirus tests before the match. All were sent home and said to be asymptomatic.

[ LIVE: Follow League Cup scores ]

The match went on with assistant manager Alan Irvine taking the reigns.

Diop is by far the most significant name on that list when it comes to West Ham’s competitive fortunes (Yes, we know Moyes in the manager).

West Ham stressed that it’s been vigilant when it comes to COVID-19:

The Club’s measures and protocols around COVID-19 remain stringent. This included offering to test the Hull City team ahead of tonight’s fixture – an offer which they opted not to accept.

Diop went the distance in both of West Ham’s PL matches this season, while Cullen has not featured for Moyes. The Irons lost 2-0 to Newcastle and 2-1 to Arsenal.

Champions League qualifying: How to watch, start times, odds

UEFA Champions League qualifying
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The 12 clubs remaining in the race for the final UEFA Champions League group stage slots will be pared down to six in the next eight days.

There are American connections to two of the six ties.

Former USMNT midfielder Jesse Marsch manages Austria’s Red Bull Salzburg toward the next round, while Molde right back Henry Wingo came up with the Seattle Sounders.

VIDEO: Premier League highlights ] 

Salzburg are significant favorites to advance over two legs, odds accentuated by Maccabi Tel-Aviv’s seven players absent due to positive COVID-19 tests.

Marsch had previously said he did not want to go to Israel due to COVID-19 concerns, calling it “dangerous,” but has accepted the task at hand.

From Austrian publication Kronen Zeitung:

“The moment UEFA said we were going to play in Tel Aviv, it wasn’t a problem for me. Maccabi has a great team. We are not naive. We understand that we have to fight tomorrow.”

At 3:10 in some sportsbooks, Marsch’s men are the only club favored to win the first leg away. Salzburg is led by Dominik Szoboszlai and Patson Daka, who’ve helped the team thrive despite the sales of several stars including Erling Haaland and Takumi Minamino.

Molde has a much tougher test with Hungarian side Ferencvaros, who knocked off Celtic. That tie could go either way, while Slavia Prague and Olympiakos are respectively noticeable favorites to beat Midtjylland and Omonia Nicosia.

Dynamo Kiev will be expected to outlast Gent over two legs, while it would be a minor upset if PAOK takes down Krasnodar.


How to watch the UEFA Champions League qualifying playoff round

Kickoff: 3 pm ET Tuesday and Wednesday
Stream: CBS All-Access (subscription required)


UEFA Champions League playoff round matches

All 12 legs will kickoff at 3 pm ET between Tuesday and Sept. 30.

Tuesday

Maccabi Tel-Aviv v. Red Bull Salzburg
Slavia Prague v Midtjylland
Krasnodar v PAOK

Wednesday

Gent v Dynamo Kiev
Molde v Ferencvaros
Olympiakos v Omonia

Sept. 29

Ferencvaros v Molde
Dynamo Kiev v Gent
Omonia v Olympiakos

Sept. 30

Midtjylland v Slavia Prague
PAOK v Krasnodar
Red Bull Salzburg v Maccabi Tel-Aviv